Katini Yamaoka: “Be positive and optimistic”

Be positive and optimistic. Good energy is magnetic! We are attracted to people and things that are positive. This mindset will only amplify the good in your career, team, and life! As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katini Yamaoka. Katini is a Japanese-African […]

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Be positive and optimistic. Good energy is magnetic! We are attracted to people and things that are positive. This mindset will only amplify the good in your career, team, and life!


As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katini Yamaoka.

Katini is a Japanese-African music artist based in New York who cares deeply about human rights issues worldwide. Katini Skin, part of BPM Minority-Owned Business Incubator program, is her ode to the natural health and beauty practices she’s discovered performing globally and living in Japan, Australia and the U.S.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My father was a human rights leader in Ghana, who was taken from us when I was five. My mother, with courage and grace, raised her three daughters with progressive education in Maleny, Australia. At the time, she only spoke Japanese, but understood that this school based on neo-humanist values would be a place of healing for her family. She continues to teach me how sharing beauty and tenderness can allow us to serve other women, which she still travels the world doing.

My father and my mother have cared deeply about our most urgent global wellness issues, like poverty and food, but my mother has always woven art and beauty into her practice as an activist. She encouraged me to explore my creativity and I was signed to a major label in Tokyo at the age of 17. I’ve spent my career as an artist learning about world cultures and performing globally, including with the UN Australia, Forbes 30 Under 30 and Japan’s Montreux Jazz Festival.

I hope that Katini Skin can help people feel their own grace and tenderness, so they can give their kindest selves to each other.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I began Katini Skin in collaboration with the organization Black Progress Matters and business partner Katherine Ragusa. We wanted to create powerfully effective facial oils that value ancient wisdom as a source for beauty and truth.

Starting this process during the pandemic has given me room to experiment, go inward, and learn. Creating our skincare has been an exciting journey into what I had known and hadn’t, including about the science of skin and our microbiome. I think we have created products that lift the spirit — they certainly make my days happier.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was younger and working primarily in Japan, I felt the need to put on a tough persona to convey my ideas. We would be in conference rooms in suits with my innermost creativity on the table, and I felt like I needed to fight for every inch, just to stake out territory. It has been a process over time to come back to my own self, my heart, and what I really care about most so I can make art that’s real to me.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I told you some about my mother, but I could talk about her forever — I hope that I always will and to be an expression of her. Black Progress Matters and Katherine have been wonderful partners, and I’m very excited to launch and continue something meaningful.

I’ve also had a wonderful group of peers and creatives in New York and elsewhere that have always encouraged me to stay creative and keep exploring new ideas.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

Minority women are one of the fastest growing groups of entrepreneurs, but are massively underfunded. It’s the legacy of patriarchy, racism, and how wealth and education have been distributed in America. A lot of people still don’t think that women can lead. The good news is that they are getting proven wrong constantly. We need to educate young girls in school about the endless opportunities they have and build a culture that supports women, especially women of color.

VC firms remain remarkably male and white-dominated. There needs to be a huge shift in the business landscape and more effort focused on supporting women in positions of power.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

More women decision makers. More women-managed funds. It’s a matter of who is in charge and able to deploy capital, hire, and lead fairly.

We need to start this process in homes and schools when children are young — not just when they are working on getting rid of all the insecurities and biases they grew up with.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

We need to consistently stake out ground and hold space for other women. When we lead, we can chart an easier path for the next person and by building a network, we can continue to lift each other up.

It’s healthier for society. Women have shown time and again that we are incredible, community-minded leaders. We care for each other in special, valuable ways.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

That you have to do it all. I carried this weight on my shoulders for years (I still sometimes do!) thinking that a leader has to do every little thing in the business otherwise they weren’t really “leading”. This is false and will only exhaust you and take focus away from the very important things that require 100% of your energy. It takes a village to raise a child. Yes, you give birth to this child and yes, you are its mother, but it’s important to rely on community and extended family! In business, your team is family — work closely with incredible people.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

I believe that anyone in this world can be a founder. It takes dedication, leadership, integrity, passion, the courage to say no and a heck of a lot of hard work! If you have a concept and believe in it with all your heart you can make anything happen. It takes someone who has a strong vision and is willing to put in the work no matter what. If you are someone who easily gives up or prefers an undisturbed life after clocking out, this may not be the role for you!

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. My mother says “be an iron fist in a velvet glove.” Be strong about your vision and what you stand for, but keep your tenderness. Never lose sight of your mission but always communicate it with kindness, grace, and suppleness.

2. Integrity. Your work has to come from your heart and values.

3. Setting healthy boundaries. Don’t let criticism, insecurities, or shortsighted biases drag you down. We live in a world that is not perfect with wonderful people who aren’t either. Don’t let the noise get to you, cut through it!

4. A mental, physical, emotional and spiritual balance is a must! Find mindful practices like meditation to keep you at your highest self. I have been practicing meditation since I was 5 years old to keep my mind clear and ready. If I miss a day, I always notice.

5. Be positive and optimistic. Good energy is magnetic! We are attracted to people and things that are positive. This mindset will only amplify the good in your career, team, and life!

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

It has always been my life mantra to make sure that the work I do leaves a positive impact in the world. I was brought up with the philosophy that life was about self-development through service to others. As a singer-songwriter, I am grateful to be able to write and perform songs that lend a voice of positive empowerment to people globally.

With my new company Katini Skin I wanted to make sure to create a culture where we are conscious about our planet and community. We have sourced our packaging and ingredients for Katini Skin to make sure to reduce our carbon footprint. Together with Black Progress Matters, we have pledged 20% of all profits to funding other vibrant, founders of color.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

We need to help each other and understand how influential we can be in our own spheres, locally or globally. We can accomplish so much in our humble, daily lives when we take real care with others. Maybe something to each person to recognize their great influence in how they treat each person, regardless of perceived status. That and large-scale wealth redistributive policies, now.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to have lunch with Naomi Osaka. I have been a huge fan of hers ever since watching her win the US Open in 2018, and love her even more for standing up for her emotional needs above the artificial expectations of her sport. Sitting close to her parents at the U.S. Open, I was in awe at how much they reminded me of my parents who are also people of Japanese and African descent. Watching Naomi Osaka’s hard earned success, hardship and care of social justice has truly been an inspiration. To me she is the ultimate iron fist in a velvet glove. I love her soft and graceful Japanese mannerisms mixed with her explosive and powerfully driven African side. It would be a dream to meet her one day.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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